In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Aging out of foster care

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works – United States
  • Journals
  • Disabilities
  • Interventions – United States
  • Summaries and Reviews of Interventions
  • Rigorous Evaluations of Interventions
  • Chafee Next Generation
  • Extended Foster Care as an Intervention
  • Specialized Organizations

Social Work Aging out of foster care
Judith Regina Havlicek, Amy Dworsky
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 July 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 July 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0300


In the United States, as in many other countries, the primary goal for children who enter foster care is a permanent home. Children can achieve permanency through reunification with the family from which they were removed, adoption by a new family, or placement with a legal guardian. Although most children who enter care achieve permanency, some remain in foster care until they “age out,” generally between their eighteenth and twenty-first birthdays, depending on the state in which they live. For young people who age out of care, the transition to adulthood is not an easy one. No longer able to count on the state for continuing support, yet unable to turn to their parents or other family members for financial and/or emotional support, these young people often find themselves having to make the transition to adulthood largely on their own. Federal child welfare policy to address the needs of youth aging out of foster care has evolved since the Title IV-E Independent Living Program was created in 1985 to provide states with funding to prepare youth in foster care for the transition to adulthood. Three major pieces of federal legislation enacted over the past two decades have gradually expanded the supports available to this population. The Foster Care Independence Act of 1999 established the Chafee Foster Care Independence Program (renamed the Chafee Foster Care Program for Successful Transition to Adulthood), the primary source of federal funding for independent living services. The law mandated the development of the National Youth in Transition Database (NYTD) to collect data on the provision of independent living services in fourteen domains, the characteristics of youth who receive those services, and the outcomes from youth at ages 17, 19, and 21 beginning in FY 2011. The Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008 granted states the option of extending the age of eligibility for federally funded foster care from 18 to 21. To qualify for extended federal foster care, young people must meet certain eligibility requirements. As of 2020, a majority of states, several tribal nations, and the District of Columbia have extended eligibility for federally funded foster care. Most recently, the Family First Prevention Services Act of 2018 allows states to extend eligibility for Chafee-funded services to age 23. This evolution in federal policy reflects advancements in our understanding of normative development, growing knowledge about the complex challenges young people face during the transition to adulthood, changing attitudes about the state’s responsibilities as corporate parent, and empirical evidence of the benefits of allowing young people to remain in care beyond age 18.

Introductory Works – United States

Several sources provide an overview of the research on young people aging out of care in the United States and the evolution of child welfare policy directed at helping those young people with the transition to adulthood. They include Courtney and Hughes Heuring 2005, Dworsky 2008, Collins 2001, and Courtney 2009 as well as a report, Congressional Research Services 2019.

  • Collins, Mary E. 2001. Transition to adulthood for vulnerable youth: A review of research and implications for policy. Social Service Review 75.2: 271–291.

    DOI: 10.1086/322209

    This article reviews the evolution of federal independent living policy in the United States and focuses on the theoretical underpinnings of independent living programs and services in the United States.

  • Congressional Research Service. 2019. Youth transitioning from foster care: Background and federal programs. RL34499. Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service.

    This report provides background information about youth aging out of foster care and the federal support available to those youth.

  • Courtney, Mark E. 2009. The difficult transition to adulthood for foster youth in the U.S.: Implications for the state as corporate parent. Social Policy Report 23:3–18.

    DOI: 10.1002/j.2379-3988.2009.tb00058.x

    This report describes the US child welfare system, summarizes research on the transition to adulthood, and examines the evolution of U.S. policy toward youth in foster care.

  • Courtney, Mark E., and Darcy Hughes Heuring. 2005. The transition to adulthood for youth “aging out” of the foster care system. In On your own without a net: The transition to adulthood for vulnerable populations. Edited by D. Wayne Osgood, E. Michael Foster, C. Flanagan, and G. R. Ruth, 27–67. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

    This chapter reviews research on outcomes of young people who aged out of foster care across multiple domains, including education, physical and mental health, substance abuse, involvement with the criminal justice system, family formation, employment and economic self-sufficiency, housing and homelessness, civic engagement, and family relations.

  • Dworsky, Amy. 2008. The transition to adulthood among youth “aging out” of foster care: What have we learned? In Child welfare research: Advances for practice and policy. Edited by Duncan Lindsay and Aron Shlonsky, 125–144. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195304961.003.0007

    This chapter reviews what is known about the outcomes of youth who have aged out of foster care. It provides a brief overview of the motivation for and development of the Title IV-E Independent Living Program and its successor, the John H. Chafee Foster Care Independence Program.

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